CSUDH criminal justice major Janelle Nelson was among 75 student leaders who participated in a meeting at the White House with Vice President Kamala Harris to discuss the fight to protect reproductive rights.
Nelson, a CSUDH senior and Presidential Scholar who will graduate this December, was one of two students chosen from the 23 CSUs across the state. She joined students from 65 other campuses and 33 different states at the forum.
“It was amazing,” says Nelson. “I was only there for two days, but I slept a lot on the plane, so I had time to walk around and see as much as I could—to just soak it all in, because I don’t know when I’ll be going to Washington DC again!”
In selecting a student to represent CSUDH, “We wanted a student who was bright, mature enough to manage the responsibilities of independent travel, and poised enough to represent the campus is this special invitation-only summit,” said President Thomas A. Parham.
“Janelle has distinguished herself in her academic achievements, is capable of articulating her position on the topic being discussed, and has the poise, maturity, and intellect we were looking for.”
During the conversation, student leaders spoke to Vice President Harris about reproductive health care access on their college and university campuses, and shared stories about how students are organizing in their communities following the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.
“Basically, the summit was about how abortion access is up to the states now, and there’s a lot of misinformation and confusion,” says Nelson. “There’s not one standard. If you’re in one place, there might be one law, but another just across the state line. And a lot of students don’t really have access to that kind of information sometimes because we’re so focused on school.”
The student leaders highlighted how young people are mobilizing to oppose restrictive abortion laws and noted the intersection of attacks on abortion access and attacks on voting rights and LGBTQI+ rights—underlining the importance of building coalitions to defend rights and freedoms.
“Hearing how passionate they were and how involved they were in the topic really underlined how serious this is,” says Nelson. “I feel like it ignited a passion in me about something that maybe I wasn’t focused on enough before.”
“I got to meet a lot of the other students there,” she continues. “I can definitely say that these women will be a part of amazing change—they already are part of amazing change! Trading stories and contact information with them was really important to me.”
After the meeting, the student leaders got to meet Vice President Harris and had a group photo taken. “It was like Hunger Games, I’m telling you,” Nelson laughs. “As soon as they said, ‘Let’s get a photo,’ everybody started posting and running over. I didn’t know we were doing it like that! It was really fun, though.”
Being one of two student leaders from the CSU system “definitely made me feel proud,” says Nelson, who plans to pursue a master’s degree in social work after graduating from CSUDH. “It’s been an amazing, whirlwind experience. I’m so honored to have been able to represent Dominguez Hills.”
“As a college student, you can find yourself just focused on your diploma. When you’re in the middle of it, it seems like you’re just waiting for the next essay, the next assignment. But things like this are shaping my future and are going to change my life. I know once I graduate, it’ll hit me and I’ll be an emotional wreck.”
“But right now I have two papers due on Sunday, so that’s what I’m thinking about!” she laughs.